Sunday, January 4, 2009

Israel Begins The Ground War NYT Opposed. What Does NYT Say Now? So Far, Nothing.

The Times editorial page has been unusually quiet about Israel's attacks against Gaza -- only one editorial in over a week of war, and no comment from any of its op-ed columnists. In Saturday's Times, Gail Collins gave us a quiz, and Bob Herbert railed against the New York Jets. Today, Nicholas Kristof returns to the topic of sex trafficking, while Frank Rich reams George W. Bush. Wow, tough target.

Could the editorial page silence reflect the Times's fear of stating an opinion that might offend its large pro-Israel readership? Has the Times hesitated because it isn't feeling quite as categorical in its support of Israel's military strategy this time around? Yes, Hamas is considered a terrorist organization -- but more than ever before, humanitarian voices have spoken up to condemn Israel for its treatment of civilians in Gaza by cutting off food supplies, and its bombs that have killed innocent women and children.

In its only editorial on the latest Mideast conflict last Tuesday -- a lukewarm endorsement of Israel's retaliatory strikes against Hamas -- the Times did declare itself opposed to the launch of an Israeli ground war in Gaza:

By Monday, some 350 Palestinians — mostly Hamas security forces — were reported killed. A Hamas security compound was among dozens of structures pummeled in the attacks, and the group’s leaders were supposedly driven into hiding. The Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, promised a “war to the bitter end.”

We hope he does not mean a ground war. That, or any prolonged military action, would be disastrous for Israel and lead to wider regional instability. Mr. Barak and Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, both candidates to succeed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in elections set for February, must not be drawn any further into a competition with the front-runner, Benjamin Netanyahu, over who is the biggest hawk.

But now that Israel has launched the very ground war the Times opposed, the Times has responded with yet more silence. Its lead editorial in Sunday's paper urges President-elect Obama to stick to his pledge to raise taxes on the rich. That's an important topic, but a relatively safe position for the Times to take. An attack on Israel's military strategy? Not so much.

It will be fascinating to see how strong a stand the Times takes on the conflict in the days to come. At the moment, the lack of courage behind its silence speaks loud and clear.

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